The Offenders Tag Association
In 1981, following a feasibility study done at his request by the University of Kent, Tom Stacey took his scheme of a penal bodily-attached monitoring device serving as a detention curfew or tracking locater to the Home Office – then headed by William Whitelaw. He was interviewed by the under-secretary Jeremy Trevelyan, whose evident incredulity prompted Stacey to form a pressure group, the Offender’s Tag Association, following a letter to The Times. His committee included the electronic scientist Carl den Brinker, Maidstone’s prison governor Peter Timms, and fellow campaigner Aubrey Baring.
Shortly thereafter the quartet held a national press conference, widely ridiculed, while establishing the concept and the word ‘tag’ to apply to the worn electronic device locating the wearer’s location. His Times letter was re-published in that paper’s volume of daft proposals made by Times’readers. Meanwhile he and the OTA were immediately attacked and vilified (often virulently) by the Howard League, the Prison Reform Trust, the National Association of Probation Officers, the Police Federation, the Prison Officers’ Association, the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty), the influential journalistic commentator on penal affairs Joshua Rozenberg, and the then Bishop of Birmingham. He was listened to with respect, however, by the Parliamentary All-Party Penal Affairs Group whom he kept continuously briefed on the OTA’s research and the adoption and development in the US of a similar device.
It took until the later 1980s, after the appointment of Douglas Hurd (Tom Stacey’s former co-editor of Eton College’s weekly Chronicle) as Home Secretary, for a pilot project to be launched for England and Wales. The media was united in hostility, with elements of the ‘liberal’ press paying those offenders chosen to test the tag’s workability to defect and render the piloting worthless. It was to be a subsequent Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who in the 1990s faced down the opposition and established the tag as a permanent, and now indispensable adjunct to the penal tariff in all parts of the UK.
Tom Stacey, in line with his original proposal, has continued to campaign for the rolling out of the mobility tag the GPS satellite tag, allowing for 24/7 tracking of offenders free to circulate in the community under regimes ordained by the court.